- SXSW 2014 -

Return to
Fein Mess

SXSW 2014

27th year. I expect a fantastic voyage and always find one.
Some preliminary notes, i.e. afterthoughts.

- SXSW is great as ever. I, perhaps alone, fulfill its charter by seeing mostly acts from Texas and the southwest. Not the big acts you can see on tv.

- SXSW is not ‘ruined’ it’s just grown. The acts drawing thousands are held in arenas that fit them. Were people puking on 6th at a spectacular rate? What can you do? College kid binge drink and regret it. It’s nature’s way.

- If a big music act has a big show early in the fest, it’s a cinch that they will play more shows at smaller venues.

- Speaking as a medium (not a savant but at 5’8” not short!), I feel that ramping would be good at clubs where people stand, so that short people (not me!) can see the stage. Though most heighters stand out of people’s way, my first night at the Continental Club a 6’7” guy in a baseball shirt near the front blocked many others’ view. Put a raised section in front for women, who run shorter.

- Before a show at the Continental, a guy representing SXSW told everyone to bow their head for two minutes in honor of the dead and injured festgoers. I found this bully pulpit a bit much. Who the hell wasn’t feeling bad about it.

- A big issue for me is the ban on cameras. I could have gotten a press-tag, but figured,logically that this old restriction was negated by 500,000 people with cameras on their cellphones. And I got away without it in most clubs but busted at the Saxon. In light of the fact that the Getty Corporation, the owner of millions of images, has given up charging for them, that jig is up.

- Just found the go-to list I compiled before leaving L.A. Lucinda Wiliams, Kid Congo & the Pink Monkey Birds, Barrence Whitfield, Johnny Winter, Bobby Rush, Nicole Atkins, Those Darlins, and Buzz Cason. All eluded my view. But I was cool!

Tues, March 11.

When you deplane in Austin, there are bands playing at Ray Benson’s restaurant on site, a fine introduction to the city.

I was worried my 4:20 arrival would be a close shave to pick up a car by 6:00 at the rental place in Barton Springs twenty miles away. Once ‘my’ car was gone it’d cost me dearly to find another during this week. (‘My’ place allows you to return the car to the airport, at about half the airport rate.) But it worked out. Since I had barely eaten this day, I asked the clerk if there was a food court in the shopping center.

“Food court!” said the really nice Middle-eastern guy at Budget. “No, you go to Rudy’s Barbecue a half mile from here. Get the brisket.” I had been to Rudy’s, with its art-directed old gas station motif, before. It was great then and great again. Car and self fueled, I drove to the Austin Convention Center.

For many years, parking during SXSW week cost $7 or $8 at city-op lots and $10 or $15 at private ones. This year you couldn’t touch a city lot at noon and the private ones charged $25. I paid it. Budget $250 for parking.

I went to the Convention Center and registered with little delay: I’d hit the right moment, 7pm. Immediately I ran into two women important to me, Music Press chief Elizabeth Derczo and Luann Williams, Advertising/Marketing manager and all around Austin hostess. It boded (bade? bid?) well for the fest.

As I walked two blocks northward through the building to an exit, John Doe and his sweetheart were walking toward me and we said hello. He said he was going to see a film about people who make 78’s and had an extra ticket. I joined their walk to the theater (in the convention center) and upon entering, Mark Leviton’s girlfriend Debbie walked out en route to a bathroom and said “Mark’s inside” as if this was a rendezvous we’d planned. This always happens.

The film was made by a couple who bought equipment to record on 78 rpm discs. The technical and historical points were interesting, but the bulk of the film was a road picture showing them recording the music of and interviewing musicians who were, well, not terrifically interesting. Also, the amateur lensman was in love with his zoom, so many shots flew in and out of focus. Maddening.

As I was leaving I spotted a person I recognized. Originally from New York, he’d lived in LA and now Austin. He said he’s moving to Montreal. “I own a duplex. I live on one side and rent out the other for $1400. When their lease expires I’m going to lease each for $2800. I can live on that income.” Austin is a land of opportunity. It is said that 150 people move there every day.

From there I headed, per Mark’s suggestion, to the Main ii to see Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison. He emphasized Stage 2, so I asked at the door if this was it and the guy said yes. I watched the young band ‘girl pilot’ for a little while but couldn’t find Mark. When they finished I wandered into the back - to Stage 2. There were Willis and Robison, but no Mark. (Turns out he was stage-front. I disdain that, from old experiences with stage-divers.) From there I called Jason Gross of NY and asked his location. He was one door away, so we met and went to the 512 Rooftop to see his pick, Kool & Together, a neo-Funk band from Houston. I liked.

girl pilot (Samantha Smith)

Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis

Kool & Together.

Finally drove to Dripping Springs to the home of Mary and Jurgen Koop. I ‘knew’ my way around their maze-like development so didn’t ask directions and got hopelessly lost and Mary had to suit up and drive to get me at 2:30 am. Their place is 20 miles from downtown Austin, but I went far further by driving past my turnoff, through the town of Dripping Springs and ten miles into dark nothingness.

I had a nice reunion with my friends, and they loaded me with details about what to do when they left town Friday thru Sunday for a steel guitar convention in Dallas: lock the doors, leave lights on, feed the cat etc. It was the first of many days that I went to sleep at 4 a.m.

Wednesday March 12

Drove downtown to the Convention Center at 1 pm and could find no parking. None. Drove instead to 6th Street west, where downtown fades, intending to park for the afternoon. After 30 minutes crisscrossing the area I headed uphill and over to the state capitol 1 far from my destination and parked on 11th Street at a meter that needed just $1.40 til it expired, making it the car’s home for the remainder of the day and night. Walked about a mile to Benji’s Cantina, across the street from my target venue, the Dogwood. Sat for an hour weary from the parking struggle and ate my first meal since Monday. The chicken taco containing fried breaded balls of chicken was scary - the chicken was wet and white like it had been cooked in the breading, not before. Chicken sushi not my thing, I skipped it and had guacamole, chips and queso. Soon Jason Gross showed up and shared the snack food. Then we crossed the street to Cary Baker’s Conqueroo free-access adjoining-club music extravaganza and pressed flesh. Enjoyed Chuck Mead and Billy Joe Shaver and Rosie Flores. Took a photo with Rosie and Kevin Smith, my friend from High Noon who now plays with Willie Nelson, and then ran into Billy Altman and Charlie McCardell, two visitors from the east. We agreed to meet later for the fest’s first march.

Rosie, AF, Kevin Smith.

Chuck Mead, formerly of BR5-39

Billy Joe Shaver, from afar.

Dan Perloff, Paul Body

At 7:30 on a busman’s holiday I went to see Harvey Sid Fisher’s triumphant return to Austin, his first since they stopped inviting him in 2002: a new generation has emerged at SXSW and he is again persona grata. Many in the crowd lined up outside the outdoor venue tittered and called out Harvey’s name as they overheard the sound-check, but they never got in: the club’s cashier didn’t shown up so none could be admitted, leaving Harvey to play enthusiastically to the VIPs who got in with passes. It wasn’t this festival’s first or biggest screwup, but a very disheartening one.

Harvey, headless.

At 8 pm I went to the 18th Floor Of The Hilton with Billy and Charlie to see Greta Svarbo Bech, a woman from the Faroe Islands, and her band. Those synthesizers didn’t seem especially Farovian, but what do I know. Next went to see the Haden Triplets, daughters of bassist Charlie Haden from LA, at the Episcopal Church. They harmonized purdy, then we watched Wanda Jackson, who put on a rockin’ and charming show. (Her bandleader, Danny Harvey, told me that that was the most powerful show he‘d seen her do.) I ran into Keith Morris, as I do so often in L.A.

Greta Svarbo Bech

The alleys of Austin provide respite from the hoi polloi.

The Haden Triplets

Wanda Jackson

At 11, I left for a club on 6th to see Lisa Marie Presley. People had asked if I was going to see a train wreck, but I objected: she’s had some bad outings but maybe she’s found her voice. Nope. Her voice is deep and unmelodic. Surrounded by an energetic band she soldiered on through several songs that never caught fire or maybe I’m deaf to them. I adjourned to the patio and sat down with fellow defector Seymour Stein of Sire Records, and we jabbered about ‘50s songs and who should be in the R&R hall of Fame.

From there I accompanied him on a fairly long walk to a club on 9th & Red River for him to see a band at Cheer Up Charlie’s. When we got there things were very quiet, except for sirens and maybe a hundred police cars and fire engines. As we left the Presley show at 12:30, a maniac had raced up that very street and killed and maimed people. The carnage was just 15 minutes old, but the dead and wounded were not visible to us: the impact spot was just past this club, now behind police barricades in darkness. We were never in harm’s way, but had we left earlier ... I walked with him back to his hotel on a circuitous route around roadblocks. (Post script. Why, in Texas of all places, did they not shoot to kill when the driver ran from his car? Tazering is so liberal.)

1 Though there is but one Capitol, and that is in Washington D.C. (all other states have capitals), Texas not only uses the national Capitol spelling but copied the U.S. Capitol building with one exception - it’s a foot taller.


Parked by the Capitol again, walked to the Convention Center and looked around. The press room had no snacks just a bowl of hard candy (symbolic of hard times?) and the masseuse they offer had left, so I had a lunch at Moonshine, the always-crowded restaurant across the street, where I’d hoped to dine last year. I had a turkey melt and found that it’s becoming uniform for ‘better’ restaurants to give you thin slices of turkey like you get out of an Oscar Meyer pack (found this at Home in L.A. too). Disappointing.

The Rebel Cats, from Mexico. Convention Center.

At 4 pm I ran into James Trussart, the french guitar maker who lives in LA. I joined him as he parked his car near the convention center, and we walked to a party “at a castle” that he said was at 111 W. 11th. The walk from 3rd to 11th in the still-sunnny warmth didn’t kill us, but what did was finding that he was one digit off - it was 1111 W. 11th, more than a mile further. After my previous two days marching I was chary, but soldiered on. We ran into a couple of his friends en route and we all suffered, especially when the insufferable walk climaxed in a 45-degree ascent.

At The Castle, a turreted 1800’s military bldg that looks down on Austin, we and twenty others enjoyed an outdoor concert by C.C. Adcock and James McMurtry. I was delighted that C.C. knew me from tv during a time he lived in L.A. Afterward I cadged a ride back down to my car from Steve Wertheimer, owner of the Continental Club. The presence of myself and James and a friend in the back seat of the custom ‘51 Merc caused the car’s shocks to bottom out on ruts. I am not close to Steve, a nodding acquaintance, and I am forever in his debt for this merc(ur)y ride. I was bushed from three days of marching through Austin.

The ‘out in the cold’ crowd

Trussart (center), et Cie.

Nineish I went to the Saxon Club to meet Mark Leviton and Debbie Gold. Onstage was Ray Bonneville, a fine musician from Canada and all over, who sounded to me, at first blush, like Terry Allen. Mark pooh-poohed this. I saw Eliza Gilkyson standing near our corner table and went to say hello, as we have a slight personal friendship based on my visiting her in Santa Fe in 1976 and my close friendship with her sister Nancy, who I haven’t seen this century despite her Austin-adjacency because she’s awfully busy.

Eliza’s performance was a joyful jumble of gaiety and irony. At some point I snuck off to see a bit of Tony Joe White at the Continental 2. I never cottoned to his style when he was a young man sounding like an old man, but now that he sounds like an old man and is one I like him because he seems youthful! I stayed, of course, for Ian McLagan’s band. Far as I can tell, this is the best band making the best music in the world. I pulled myself away and returned to the Saxon and watched most of the set by Bill Kirchen, whom I call a friend. His show is always a winner.

Tony Joe White

2 I keep wanting to call the Saxon and the Continental “The Palomino” after the long-closed LA country music club. But the Pal never booked acts this consistently good.


A handy sign, when near the courthouse.

Strolling troubadour, seated.

Where once single-family homes stood, big structures grew. Becoming-typical “neighborhood” in Berlin, I mean Austin. Near UT.



I drove into town and hit Maria’s Tacos around 3:00. This was the day Kim Grant and Carolina Chickadee co-ran a full day of free entertainment based on the ethos of the Grand Ole Echo in L.A. I made a trademarked quick turnaround, staying to catch ex-Angeleno Randy Woods turn in a terrific set. Also met up with Paul Body, which shouldn’t be rare but is. We go different places together.

At 4:00 I heard from Billy Altman that he and Charlie would be at the Dog & Duck, a non-SXSW site. The pub opens onto a huge area for concertizing, but is on tenterhooks, both literally and figuratively: it’s got a huge tent, and the shadows cast by mammoth buildings rising around it are symbolic as well as literal. We saw the Gay Sportscasters, a rowdy, humorous, almost San Franciscan bunch of Austinites in exotic garb. That was enjoyable, as was Crying Nut, a bouncy “punk rock” band from Korea, lively and affable in a teen-pleasing way; I like that one guy played accordion. From there we went to Stiles Switch barbecue north on Lamar for some grub. I, in what is an engrained pattern, ordered stuff I didn’t like. Keeps my weight down.

The Gay Sportscasters

Crying Nut

At 8 pm I fully intended to surrender to the $25 parking robbers, but was turned away by all. Whilst considering giving up entirely I strayed to East 10th Street, going one-way west, and saw what looked like a pair of parking spaces by dead (no longer ‘on’) parking meters near Congress. I backed into one (a unique, I think, Austin feature is angular back-in parking, designed so you get the blind part finished first) and then found I could not communicate with my friends who, to the man, cannot use a phone for anything but texting, which is very difficult on my ancient flip phone.

I left my parked car with a giddy sense of triumph, and walked eastward intending to meet Jason Gross at the Episcopal church in a half hour, first stopping at the Victorian Room at the Driskill where I saw a terrific couple of songs by locals The Wind & The Wave, and also the Show & Tellers in the steer horn-bedecked cowhide chair hotel lounge. Leaving there I realized in panic that I had no coat.

The Wind & The Wave

The Show & Tellers

The temp was iffy, 50s/60s , so I had been donning and doffing the bepocketed not-heavy safari coat over my double-layered shirts. I revisited a store, the Driskill and areas where I’d stopped to use the phone and could not find it. Angry at myself I retraced my steps to the car hoping I’d dropped it when it was draped over my shoulders. I arrived dispirited at the parking space that had only recently made my day and found the coat on the parking meter.

Had I done it myself, while loading the night’s provisions from the back of the rental car, or had someone found it lying on the sidewalk and placed it there? Hell, I don’t know, but it got me rededicated to getting back in the night’s swing.

Having lost contact with my primary text-mad companion and weary from the recent march and coat loss/recovery, I returned to the St. David’s central room which had couches and offered food for sale. Stripped of my overwear I sat on a chair and closed my eyes and 45 minutes later woke.

I had no goal for the evening’s music and figured I’d go where one acquaintance or another went, but as no one answered my ‘quaint’ phone entreaties I lingered, grateful that I wasn’t on a crowded festival street. In time the old fallback of South Austin beckoned and I headed to the Saxon and saw the finale of Blackie & The Rodeo Cowboys, from Canada, and then enjoyed a whole set by Austin’s Jesse Dayton Band, one of the best anywhere. I hate to use this cliché but “You gotta love a guy” who does a song about his mom running off with David Allen Coe. I was delighted and dumfounded by Jesse’s warm embrace when I introduced myself after the show. I’m a big fan, but had no idea he remembered me - after his 9th performance in 3 days maybe he mistook me.

Saturday March 15

Misty, cold morning, then it cleared up. At 1:30 I headed to Antone’s Records, the privately-owned remnant of the late Clifford Antone’s music empire, and saw Eve & The Exiles play live, and talked to Eve and Mike Buck and Freddie Krc. I intended to stay a while then head to Scholz’s Garden to see Cornell Hurd play, but I never made it - I had forgotten my ID ‘badge’ so drove home, returning to Austin at 4:00.

Eve & The Exiles

On this second trip I drove down Lamar and stopped at Maria’s Tacos again, for Alejandro Escovedo Day and watched a trio from St. Louis. Al introduced me to his bride-to-be. Then I headed over to Threadgills to see who was playing on the American Folk Alliance Showcase. In the parking lot I ran into Bill Kirchen, who was between gigs at different venues, and he tipped me to John Fulbright, playing Threadgills’ outdoor stage. At the Folk Alliance table was onetime Austinite Mark Rubin from the Bad Livers, who now lives in New Orleans. He also recommended Fulbright, who indeed was great. Then Jason suggested by text that I come downtown to Lucinda Williams’ outdoor appearance, but by the time I got there he’d moved to another venue.

Alejandro and his bride-to-be.

John Fulbright

When he emerged I told him I’d drive him and his sweetheart Robin to a restaurant far from the fest. As we walked up Trinity Street toward my car, I saw a girl outside a musicians van lay down on the ground to sleep or seek attention. I found it photographable, but as I got my camera ready some people blocked the shot. I shot anyway, then looked up and saw two men with their arms around each other, posing for me. I thought this odd, then recognized one as Sean Lennon: he and his friend assumed I was there for them, and I honored their expectation. From there I loaded my Gotham friends into my Kia and drove to Maria’s Tacos on Lamar for a fine uncrowded meal.

Earth woman

Sean Lennon, friend.

I dropped them downtown and headed north to the Hole In the Wall on Guadalupe, across from the University of Texas. That night’s 9:00 feature was John Doe, neatly bookending my SXSW visit. He was backed by my guy Jesse Dayton’s band, so the experience was especially swell.

Opening act Heavenly States.

Johnny be’s Good!

From there I set out to see Rick Broussard and Two Hoots & A Holler at a club off East 6th Street. Both small-business sides of 6th street bisected by the 35 freeway are somewhat rundown, with the east side more so. Since I’d heard that it was growing in popularity I looked forward to my first glance. Holy smokes it was like Tijuana, filled with competing sound systems and thousands of people. Unable or unwilling to pay someone to park there (are hubcaps still tender?) and a little leery of parking at all, the choice made itself: it was just too crowded with young people and their music. My goal was to see my beloved Two Hoots, but the angst of getting there overcame my desire.

From there I went to the fallback club, the Saxon, and hung out til fatigue overtook me after watching the Fauntleroys, an ‘all-star’ occasional band and Chuck Mead. Talked to Alejandro and his betrothed again, also said hello to Dale Watson. Great fun, but I was tired and grew more so from a misstep.

I don’t drink, but thought I could quickly down an O’Douls, which claims to be nonalcoholic while out the other side of its mouth says it is “less than .5% alcohol.” When someone thirsty - me - with no alcohol defenses slugs down a bottle all at once I’d say the .5-or-less manifests itself to 2% or 3% in the onslaught. I was weakened and disoriented driving home. I would have passed a breathalyzer test but was drunk as far as I’m concerned. Fuck alcohol.

Sunday March 16

Found Mark and Debbie at the Dog & Duck around 1 pm where I saw the Wild Seeds, led by Michael Hall, the Texas Monthly writer, then drove the carless couple around a bit. We went to a Mexican restaurant on South 1st and they had a nice meal. I disliked mine and was given a plain cheese quesadilla in consolation.

The Wild Seeds

Went to the airport at 5 to pick up my sweetheart Diane and after she registered at her hotel (she was in town for a library convention) took her to Maudie’s where we had a great meal, my third there this trip. Headed ‘home’ kinda tired, so I only checked in at the Saxon but with regret didn’t stay for the ‘Hot Smoke & Sassafras’ closer.

Monday March 17

Cornell Hurd, the Austin club king, came to get me at my host’s home at 1 pm and took me to breakfast. We had a nice time talking about old times, the few we’ve had, and the world situation. He’s one smart funny guy. We’re close friends who never talk or see each other. I picked up Diane at 6:00 and we went to Threadgills, whose extensive vegetable menu was just the ticket for her, and I too enjoyed my meal.

From there we went to the Dog & Duck and ran into Kent, my longtime friend and hotelier, and heard Shoulders, a raucous Austin band play overlong ( time was running out to get Diane to her hotel to prep for the next day’s meetings.) I wanted dearly for her to hear the headliner, Ian McLagan, so we waited with Kent in the cold night air while Shoulders’ Michael Slattery preached loudly to the converted, encouraging drinkers to enjoy the Irish holiday.

Shoulders carries on.

I had assured Diane that Ian’s show was worth the wait so we waited til his 9:45 start. He, and she, are the greatest. Took her back to her hotel after only a couple songs, and then drove to Justine’s, the french restaurant way east on 5th, to join James Trussart, who invited me as Diane and we left the Dog & Duck. Once there I found James and Danny Harvey in an exclusive huddle, and since I was there for the company not the cuisine I talked a bit with Octanes bassist Drew Hays, who is a riot, then left.

Ian The Magnificent.


Got to the airport and learned to my disappointment that bands didn’t play there every day, only during SXSW. Spotted the news headline that another SXSW victim had died and a tear burst. A young woman, Sandra Le. Her parents, shrimpers on the Gulf Coast, were ruined by Katrina and the BP oil spill. She was their shining hope.

Flew to Phoenix. There I asked what time the connector to Burbank was leaving and I swear the Southwest woman said 3:25. As it was 1:50 I had plenty of time and ordered an omelet at LGO Market at the D terminal. The server said the chicken sausage was being cooked so it would take about 8 minutes. I said OK. In about five minutes he called my name and I sat down. The sausage was lukewarm. I cut open the next one and inside it was pink. I called the manager and he walked into the back, and came back and said “It’s going to take a long time to get chicken sausage. I’ll get you something else.” He did, and threw in a cookie, though I’d hollered “and a brownie” when he’d walked away. (My second undercooked chicken experience this trip. Time to go vegan?)

Oh, and the woman who (maybe) said my connecting flight left at 3:25? I got to C7 at 2:45 and it was posted for 2:25. This threw me into terror as I heard someone being told “The next flight (to somewhere) is 11:30.” But our flight was late and I got on at 3:05, arriving at Burbank around 4:30.


Return to
Fein Mess